Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Facing outrage on social media and among students, faculty and alumni, Texas A&M University officials said Wednesday that they didn't invite a white nationalist leader who is scheduled to speak on campus next month.
But Richard Spencer, a Dallas native who is now president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think-tank, still appears poised to speak on campus. He was invited by a former student, and there may not be anything the school can do to stop his appearance.
Spencer became nationally famous in the days following the election of Donald Trump. This week, a video of him speaking at a National Policy Institute event in Washington D.C. went viral. It included Spencer declaring “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” while some attendees gave Nazi-style salutes.
“To be clear, Texas A&M University — including faculty, staff, students and/or student groups — did not invite this speaker to our campus, nor do we endorse his rhetoric in any way,” said Amy Smith, vice president for marketing and communications for the school. “In fact, our leadership finds his views as expressed to date in direct conflict with our core values.”
Spencer's plans to visit A&M have sparked outrage at the school, with hundreds of people signing online petitions and calling on social media for his speech to be canceled. On Wednesday, Student Body President Hannah Wimberly released a letter signed by 27 student leaders — including presidents of campus religious groups and the Democratic and Republican clubs — condemning the event.
"Our response as student leaders is this: Hatred and bigotry have no place at Texas A&M," the letter said.
According to the A&M student newspaper The Battalion, he was invited by Preston Wiginton, a white nationalist who briefly attended A&M last decade. Wigginton has long been an incendiary presence on campus. He has clashed with professors and invited other white nationalist speakers to speak.
A&M didn’t indicate that Wigginton was the person who arranged the event but said that the room for the event was rented in the same way people rent space on campus for “community events, wedding receptions and local high school events.”
It’s unlikely A&M would have much power to stop the event if it wanted to, since it’s a government entity that must respect free speech.
“Private citizens are permitted to reserve space available to the public,” Smith said, adding that all costs of the event must be covered by the renters.
Nonetheless, state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, called on A&M to cancel the event.
"They didn't invite him," he said on Twitter. "But they can and should prevent him from speaking on campus. Our institutions must no be forums for hate speech."
He later deleted the tweet and posted what he described as a clarification: "While we must vigorously protect free speech rights on our campuses, we too must be vigilant to guard against the incitation of violence."
The speech is scheduled to happen inside Rudder Tower, which is named after former A&M president and World War II hero James Earl Rudder.
- In February, members of Texas A&M University's leadership visited Dallas to personally apologize to the high school students who were harassed and subjected to racial slurs during their visit to campus last week.
- Though Texas A&M University sparked outrage when it decided in 2003 not to use affirmative action in its admissions process, the school has since shown impressive growth in its black and Hispanic population.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.